How is the Construction skills shortage affecting recruitment?


There are many certainties in recruitment, but none inspire as much dread as being asked to find a candidate for a job you know is going to be difficult to fill.

As sure as night follows day, we can be sure recruitment agencies across the land will be able to relate to this. But what are the jobs and circumstances that cause the most problems for agencies?

The ongoing trend: a tough time for recruitment in construction


I'm sure there have been many variations heard in the office of "I need an (insert job title) on site in (insert location) by (insert date and time)." You may even receive a description of what is needed, where the candidate is required to be, when you want to meet them, the salary offered and length of contract. 

Either way, agencies will know full well that some of the requests from employers are very difficult to fill. This can be for a variety of reasons. 

The reality is there is a plethora of reasons why an agency can dread a request and it's not always necessarily about the type of job.



Skills shortages are prevalent in construction; a problem that is set to continue when current employees retire. Jeremy Blackburn, Head of Policy at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) labelled this a "knowledge cliff" when talking about the skills shortage following the recent government approval of Hinkley Point C

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) produce an excellent quarterly State of Trade Survey that focuses on the construction industry's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Which construction jobs are statistically hardest to recruit for in the UK?


The hardest construction job to fill in 2016 according to respondents tends to be bricklayers. This is an ongoing issue, and in the recent past, has been a source of difficulty in hiring according to the survey. 

However, the last quarter has seen a downward trend, with 50% of employers reporting difficulty - significantly less than the 60% figure recorded nine months ago. 

Hiring carpenters and joiners, while easier than this time last year, was second only to bricklayers as the most difficult positions to recruit for, at 49%. The difference from bricklayers though is this figure has gone up in the last quarter.

Almost 40% of businesses said plasterers were difficult to recruit, while at the other end of the spectrum, plant operatives, civil engineering operatives and steel fixers are the candidates that businesses find easiest to recruit. 


Is job type the only issue affecting skilled labour recruitment in construction?


The simple answer to this is no. If you think a recruiter's success hinges on them saying yes (or no) to a client's request to find somebody for a job, think again!

If only that were the case. 

The reality is there is a plethora of reasons why an agency can dread a request and it's not always necessarily about the type of job.

Scenario: An employer rings up asking for a labourer in Wick. Already, you know it could be a tough sell. But the client goes further, saying they're needed for three days. Double. Whammy.



Take scaffolders for example. Now, according to the FMB's inciteful State of Trade Survey, they are the type of candidates that SMEs find the easiest to recruit for, with only 15% of respondents reporting difficulty. 

However, one of the agencies we spoke to highlighted another issue: the reliability of scaffolders they deal with. 

Now, let's make one thing crystal clear before continuing - a disclaimer, if you will. We at Agency Central are by no means saying that scaffolders are unreliable across the board! Indeed, the State of Trade findings suggests an employability that wouldn't be there if the above was true for all. 

However, it's interesting to get the perspective of a successful construction recruitment agency that has trouble with particular trades. Unreliability and a high rate of absenteeism were cited as reasons the recruiter in question found scaffolders 'difficult' to work with. 

Other agencies could similarly have difficult dealings with professionals other than scaffolders. 

What it shows is that general agency experiences can scar for future requests. As such, we're interested to hear from other recruiters about the times you have found a particular profession difficult to recruit for. We'd love to hear of your experiences (link for comments). 

A recruiter who has to find a candidate for a position offering a low salary will likely have to show all their nous to fill the role.

Location / length of contract for construction vacancies

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but how likely are you to take jobs the further they are away from home? I expect the answer is not too likely, unless you don't want to be at home - something we unfortunately can't help you with!


But recruiters are often faced with this quandary, and it makes their success at filling jobs much more difficult. 

The spokesperson of the agency we contacted described location as "extremely important" when handling calls from clients looking to fill vacancies. 

This time, we can use the example of trades that are deemed difficult to recruit for. If an employer is on the phone and asks for a bricklayer in London, this will be music to the recruiter's ears. Work needed in the country's busiest city? No problem. People will queue up for this. 

The difficulty comes, according to the agency, when the client wants that same bricklayer but for a job in the outer reaches of Great Britain. 

Imagine that heart-sinking feeling when an employer dials your number asking for a plasterer for a non-competitive salary.



In this context, the areas north of Aberdeen and the very south of England can be difficult to recruit for, and enquiries such as this give significant challenges to agencies - particularly areas described by one agency as 'out in the sticks'. 

A way to placate candidates who are required to travel long distance for work is by offering them a role with a decent length of contract. This though can also be a source of contention.

Scenario: An employer rings up asking for a labourer in Wick. Already, you know it could be a tough sell. But the client goes further, saying they're needed for three days. Double. Whammy. 

The length of contract is one of the major reasons why candidates will not take work. Indeed, a recruitment agency spokesperson told us he believed "any labourer worth their money will not work unless the contract is more than two months."

Already, a recruiter is in the mode of having to manage client expectations. Such enquiries are tough to resolve, so much so that there is only one glaring reason that makes filling a role for a recruiter even more problematic

These are the tough day-to-day occurrences at recruitment agencies, confirmed by the recruiter we spoke to who said that refusal to take work comes down to salary '7 out of 10 times' on average.



Salaries in the UK construction industry

Ah, hello my old friend. Everybody wants job satisfaction, a purpose, the drive of doing something they love. But the cynics amongst us (hint: me), see salary as an important part of job satisfaction. 

If you are trying to find candidates for your client, it makes it a great deal easier if a generous salary is offered. 

So imagine that heart-sinking feeling when an employer dials your number asking for a plasterer for a non-competitive salary. 

These are the tough day-to-day occurrences at recruitment agencies, confirmed by the recruiter we spoke to who said that refusal to take work comes down to salary '7 out of 10 times' on average. 

If an employer is on the phone and asks for a bricklayer in London, this will be music to the recruiter's ears. The difficulty comes when the client wants that same bricklayer but for a job in the outer reaches of Great Britain.



Seasonal pressures make a difference too. There are times in the summer when a construction professional can set high hourly rates; those rates will reduce significantly at other times of year when demand isn't so high. 

A recruiter who has to find a candidate for a position offering a low salary will likely have to show all their nous to fill the role. That same job with a higher wage will result in interested candidates getting in touch and doing a huge chunk of the job for the agency! 

Low salaries can come in the form of telling the candidate the money offered. However, there is also the dreaded 'competitive' salary advertisements that consultants have to publish. Usually, this relates to a low salary; something that makes a recruiter's job very difficult.  

As a result, it's easy to see which type of phone call from a client results in joy, and which results in despair. 

In conclusion

So there you have it; a whistle-stop tour of the difficulties construction recruitment agencies experience when filling jobs for employers. 

Certain candidates can be hard to find because of the skills shortage impact. In addition though, circumstance including the type of work / salary offered plays a huge part. 

Are there any jobs or differing circumstances that your agency struggles with? We'd love to hear about your experiences!  

Written by John Train